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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Bill and Gloria Gaither
June 16, 2013

Music, Faith, and Family

Bill and Gloria Gaither have collaborated on more than 700 gospel songs, including the hymnal standards “Because He Lives,” “The King Is Coming,” “Something Beautiful,” “He Touched Me,” “It Is Finished,” and “There’s Something About That Name.” The Gaithers have collectively won eight Grammy Awards. They are recipients of more than two dozen Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association, earning the title of GMA’s “Songwriter of the Year” eight times.

The Gaithers still operate their ministry from Bill’s hometown of Alexandria, Ind., and they dwell in the same house in which they raised their family. They are committed to investing their resources into eternal things.

Bill and Gloria Gaither were featured guests at Evangel University (Assemblies of God) in Springfield, Mo., on Feb. 14. They spoke during the university’s chapel service and gave a lecture to music industry, music performance, and music education students. While in Springfield, the Gaithers visited with Scott Harrup, Pentecostal Evangel managing editor.

evangel: Speaking today to a new generation of Christian ministers, musicians and professionals, how do you see God shaping this generation?

Gloria Gaither: I believe it’s a shift lasting longer than a generation. It’s been called by many names, such as deconstruction or postmodern. Simply put, I don’t think we’re going to be so in love with form. This generation needs to experience things for themselves to know they are real. If the church steps up to that, I think we’re in a great place.

That doesn’t mean we give up our cardinal beliefs, but one of the problems in the past was we elevated nonessential things to the level of essentials. Our young people for several generations couldn’t tell whether it’s worse to cut their hair or to sleep with somebody. There is a danger when everything is cardinal.

There should be very few things you would give your life for, but those things are very intense. As believers, we need to figure out what’s worth dying for. And then we’re going to have to love each other around the rest.

Bill Gaither: This morning in the chapel service, I saw less cynicism and more vulnerability. Worship is a very vulnerable position to put yourself in. Especially if you’re a male. I still love traditions in our church like kneeling at an altar, especially for males to admit they need help.

Women, very quickly, if they’re in trouble will seek help. Men can be going down for the third time, and you ask them, “Hey, buddy, how’re you doing?” And they say, “Oh, great! No problem!” And you want to tell them, “You’re drowning!”

I’m seeing a new generation that is willing to take risks in a relationship with God. Because of that, they can enjoy a new level of relationship. I think that was happening in the chapel when I saw those kids totally involved.

Gloria: Yes, and there’s another reason for that we don’t talk about, that connects with this cyber-age. While kids communicating on Twitter and email and messaging has its bad side effects — it makes us somewhat less able to communicate one on one — the good side is it has given us the courage to say things we might not otherwise say.

It is less of a leap, maybe, for this generation to talk to God. Yes, sometimes, our worship can be like “texting” God. We’re giving Him blips, rather than telling Him the deep things of our hearts. But the contrasting side of that is maybe in our blips we are able to be more honest.

We can run from technology and let the devil have it. Or we can figure out how to redeem its use. I know several pastors who are asking for feedback. They’re saying, “Text me your questions. If I’m saying something you don’t understand, or you wonder how this affects your life, or how the tire hits the pavement for you, text me during the sermon.” And it goes up on the screen. So there’s an openness we never could have in the past.

evangel:  Much of your ministry has been spent investing in young and upcoming Christian talent. Why is it important that followers of Christ maintain a mentoring focus?

Bill: We’ve been in the Holy Land a number of times. The Jordan River is full of life. The Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, which is also full of life. Jesus and His disciples lived on the food they took out of that lake. The Jordan River then flows out of the Sea of Galilee and into the Dead Sea, and dies because there’s no artery going out.

I am convinced the sign of a healthy organism is the ability to live outward in every way possible. Even if it means some of those streams are bigger than yours. Even in the Christian community, I think leaders sometimes battle this.

To be a leader, you have to have some ego — just get it sanctified. The egos that are secure and sanctified produce life. They produce other people who are coming to prominence all the time. The other kind of leadership is a level of control where there’s nothing going out.

Both Gloria and I started out as teachers, and in some ways we’ve never left the classroom. I taught English, and Robert Frost’s poem was right:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood.”

It still comes down to decision-making.

Is there a way back when you make the wrong decision? Absolutely. It’s called redemption, and without that we wouldn’t be here. In teaching and in mentoring you can help some kids and say, “Here are the consequences of that kind of decision making.” It’s all going to come back to some forks in the road.

We have always encouraged young artists to make the right decisions. Some do, and some don’t. Are they still effective? Yes. But could they have had a bigger impact had they lived their faith outward more than they did?

Artistic people sometimes have the tendency to think maybe God is speaking only through them. I was thinking in the service this morning when they were doing the beautiful Michael W. Smith “Lamb of God” tune, I didn’t write that, but I can worship with that. That was just a beautiful, special moment. God speaks in all kinds of different ways.

After living this long [77 years], I think we weep much better with those who weep and rejoice with those who are rejoicing. You have to have that kind of attitude, and to me that’s a very Christlike attitude. Because Christ was a teacher and a mentor.

Gloria: In the church, we get broken people. That’s what the church is for. It’s not for all of us who are fixed up; it is for those who need a physician.

We, first of all, love people into the flock, into the fellowship of the church, and that starts often with a commitment to wanting change. “My life is going nowhere,” or “I’ve had a miserable childhood,” or “I’ve had a broken marriage,” or “I’ve had an abusive relationship.” We get people who are broken.

But you don’t just say, “OK, so now shape up.” The Early Church is such a wonderful model because it was so hands-on. It was, “We’re not just going to tell you what to do; we want you to come and walk with us. We don’t want to just feed you food; we want to feed you a whole new way of looking at life. And we’re not going anywhere.”

People have been betrayed. They’ve been broken. They’ve been violated. They no longer trust. You can’t just say, “OK, but you can trust us!” We as a church must commit long-term to people; Kingdom work doesn’t happen overnight.

We have to commit to walk with people through “two steps forward, one step backward.” We’re going to celebrate every step forward, and we’re going to hang in there through the steps backward. But we are going to hold on with them; we are the body of Christ.

So I don’t think we can accomplish anything without mentoring. It is so primary to the gospel, you cannot separate it from anything Jesus said.

evangel: How has your relationship to your fathers shaped your relationship to the Heavenly Father?

Gloria: I had a wonderful father. In fact, I sent a greeting card to him once in which I wrote, “Because you were my father, it’s been easy to believe in God.” And I’m incredibly fortunate that is the case.

I work with a lot of broken women, and they have immense issues regarding men. They have a hard time saying God is a Father. I have to find Scriptures where God is a hen brooding over her young, or the eagle spreading its wings. I have to find other metaphors for them because the father metaphor has been so broken.

But when you haven’t had a perfect father, Christ has come to redefine our trust issues with God. We thought God was far away, and full of anger and vengeance, and couldn’t wait to condemn us. And Jesus said, “No, you got it all wrong. If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.”

I find myself saying, especially to women, “Despite everything you have ever experienced, look at Christ. Because you have a perfect Father, and Christ said, ‘I will be your Brother, your Husband, your Parent.’ So you can parent your children because you have a union with a perfect Father. And it’s going to redefine everything you have ever experienced. It will heal your trust issues.”

I’m thankful for Christ. Because He is the only way out; He is the only way to healing. I have been able to embrace Christ so personally because my father was so Christlike.

Bill: I was visiting a friend of mine who brought together seven or eight men in his home. They were all quite successful in business or in ministry. We had two days where we were discussing ideas together.

The question came up “Who was the most important male influence in your life?” A number of them said it was their father. A couple of them had the exact opposite response. One of them even said his father was a minister, but was not a good influence on him.

My dad was my most important influence. But I also have a composite of five men, with my father at the top of that list. My dad walked out his faith very well; he taught me by example. On so many occasions I saw my dad react to situations like Jesus would react.

I learned generosity from my grandfather. At his funeral, it was interesting the people who came by and talked about specific things he had done for them. Then there are a couple of college presidents who have been great influences on my life and became very dear friends through the years. And, finally, there is a gospel singer I have known for a long time. I have told Gloria just how blessed I am to have had these male friends.

I ache for guys who, at 45 or 50 years old, are going through a vocational crisis and it’s just wrecking their whole world. At that point, I think you need good men in your life to help you through. The same holds true in the church.

Our daughter Suzanne Gaither Jennings wrote a song that says, “God just needs a few good men.” So it’s hard to overstate the importance of males in my life. And, yes, many of them can take on that father connotation, though no one could replace my biological father.

I have lived long enough, and it is scary these days, when I have had several men say to me, “Bill, thank you for being my friend. You’re kind of a father image to me.” I’m proud that they care that much.

We all need a protector. That’s what fathers do. That’s what the head of the home does. He is a protector. So I would encourage any of the males who are reading this to take that role responsibly.

There’s an old hymn that says, “I would be true, for there are those who trust me.” We don’t sing that one anymore, and we should. Because on any given day, that’s the biggest motivating factor in being true, in being a mentor, in being a father, and taking responsibility.


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